Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reader's Diary #887- Victoria Dunn: Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies

Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies by Victoria Dunn is the 3rd book published by The Workhorsey, the only publisher in Canada whose entire catalogue I've read. I discovered Jocelyne Allen's You and the Pirates when it was a competitor in the National Post's "Canada Also Reads" a couple of years back. (I was defending Steve Zipp's Yellowknife at the time.) In any case, I liked You and the Pirates so much that the publishers sent me a review copy of their next book, Derek Winkler's Pitouie. And I liked that so much that they sent me a copy of their latest book, Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies. Alas, the love affair is over. John does not heart Alice Hearts Zombies.

Granted, AHWZ is not a big departure for the Workhorsey and at times I started to suspect they didn't actually have three authors (four technically, as Victoria Dunn is a pseudonym for co-authors Victoria Higgins and Meghan Dunn), just a single author who self-published under a fake company banner, using different names each time. Of course, it's easy to get conspiracy minded when reading a Workhorsery novel. All three of their books reveal a world within our own, just hidden from the majority. Like Hogwarts, but with cat armies, tropical island Inuit, and zombies, all replacing the wizards. I like conspiracy theories and hidden worlds, so I'm always game. However, AHWZ is similar enough to its predecessors that I can say with confidence that it you didn't enjoy Pitouie or You and the Pirates, you won't enjoy Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies either. Unfortunately the reverse logic doesn't necessarily apply.

The Workhorsery's raison d'ĂȘtre is to provide non-depressing Canadian lit, or as they refer to it, "non-traumatizing Canadian fiction." It's admirable, but I'm beginning to suspect that they've swung the pendulum too far the other way, manic versus depressive. Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies moves at a mile a minute, which could be entertaining, but with little else to offer it just becomes exhausting. At the beginning I was hopeful that it was going to be a satire of corporate culture. Like the Office but with zombies. Then Dunn seems to make jokes about everything and amidst all the one-liners it's hard to tell what the target is. Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies simply tries too hard to be funny.

On that note, the characters never seem to rise beyond the level of caricature. Basically it deals with employees of a fictional organization called Odyssey International who have been assigned to deal with a zombie outbreak in Wales. Sure the four main characters (okay, five if you count zombie Dave) seem to learn something by the end and aren't completely static, they remain flat (not to mention annoying). In lieu of character building (which  as far as I know isn't depressing or traumatizing) Dunn focuses on details of a prior adventure, almost as if the whole goal of Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies is to sell an upcoming prequel.

There are a lot of entertaining premises in the book (ex. Ken's fight for zombie dignity), but perhaps too many. Ultimately, it's not a book I expect to remember— for better or worse.

(Full disclosure: Recently I contacted The Workhorsery to inquire if they were interested in publishing an anthology I'm hoping to put together of short fiction told from a 2nd person perspective. They liked the idea but said they had a firm no short stories policy. I throw this out there in case anyone knew of this history and felt my negative review was sour grapes. I think their rejection and policy is totally fair and I harbor no bad feelings. All I can do is assure you this review is honest, regardless. But you can decide for yourself. As for the people at Workhorsery, Higgin, and Dunn, I hope there are no hard feelings either! I still look forward to reading your books in the future.)

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